Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing Inked Voices member and author Summer Short, whose debut middle-grade novel The Mutant Mushroom Takeover releases on 22 September with Simon and Schuster. The book has received four starred reviews and has been touted “Packed to the gills with fun” by Kirkus.
Congratulations, Summer on your middle grade debut! Having read some of your opening pages, I am personally very excited for this book to be out in the world.I know it is the first in a two-book deal, which is simply amazing—can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Absolutely! The book is a lightly spooky STEM novel about eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her best friend Nate who’s a conspiracy theorist and wanna-be YouTube star. Together, they’ve got to figure out the mystery surrounding an unusual glow-in-the-dark fungus that’s spreading through their small town. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad has moved across country for a new job, leaving Maggie desperate to put her family back together again. For now, she’s stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra, who started developing odd symptoms after a run-in with the bioluminescent fungus. And Ezra isn’t the only one––all around town people and animals start sprouting unusual growths and acting a little bit off. Things get even weirder and more alarming when Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and a nagging cough. Maggie’s got to use every bit of her scientific know-how and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things spooky to save her town and her family from the mutant mushroom takeover.
Wow. What a super fun idea! And yeah for girls in STEM! 🙂 Where did the original story concept come from?
I’ve always had a penchant for things that are a little bit quirky. Strange happenings in nature fascinate me, so when I stumbled upon an old documentary called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us on YouTube a few years ago, my wheels got turning. I was so intrigued by all the bizarre qualities of fungi that I kept researching until I discovered an especially bizarre variety with some very weird abilities. This real-life fungus plays a key role in my book so I can’t say too much or I’ll give away spoilers. But just know it’s creepy cool. Another source of inspiration came from my son, who was ten at the time. He requested I write a story about a pirate named Root Beard who had a beard made of living tree roots. I loved that concept and sort of tucked it away in my brain. Eventually, it coalesced with the weird tidbits from the fungi documentary and an important character in the book was born.
You were a 2018 Pitch Wars mentee. I’d love to hear about that experience. How did it help shape your book’s journey?
Pitch Wars was a great experience for me. I made new friends and found new critique partners. One of the very best parts was getting to know my mentors Kim Long and Jennifer Brown. Throughout the process, they gave me insightful feedback that helped me revise my manuscript. When the agent round of Pitch Wars arrived, they helped me refine my query and synopsis, and later walked me through how to respond to agent offers. When my book sold, they were there to cheer me on and remind me to take a deep breath. Pitch Wars was an amazing ride and a fantastic learning opportunity.
Releasing a debut during a global pandemic must be something of a challenge and experience in itself. Can you share a little about how that has been for you?
Because of COVID, my author activities have shifted to virtual instead of in-person events. I’ve participated in a couple of online author panels so far and will also be doing my book launch party virtually with a local independent bookstore. While I’d love to see friends and family in person and sign all their books, the virtual launch lets me connect with people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to attend.
With some bookstores and libraries still closed or open at limited capacity, there is a little more uncertainty, but I try to be hopeful and remember that people are still reading books and that stories are important now as much as ever. I also try to celebrate all the little wins along the way and to find joy where I can. For example, even though I won’t have an in-person launch party, I still ordered some custom mushroom sugar cookies for my release day. I’ll snap some photos for social media and then my family and I will enjoy chowing down on sugary mushroom goodness.
My virtual launch with Interabang Books in Dallas is happening at 6 p.m. CST, Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Everyone is welcome!
I love that you ordered mushroom cookies!
In addition to being a children’s author you are also a full time mom of three. Can you tell us a little about your writing schedule/process and how you manage your time between writing and family?
Balancing writing with family life is always a bit of a juggling act. Even before COVID, I homeschooled our three kids, so that takes up a chunk of my time, but it’s also part of what led me to find out some of the crazy things I discovered about mushrooms (science research with the kids). I usually write for a couple hours in the afternoon when the kids have finished their schoolwork. But when I’m on deadline, I follow a stricter schedule. I’ll wake up before the family and get in a couple extra hours of writing before the house wakes up. Then I’ll usually get in some more time in the afternoon/evening once school and other things are wrapped up.
I actually didn’t know you are a homeschool mom on top. Okay, so that places you firmly in my list of top 10 author heroes. I feel like we should do a whole other blog post just on that alone! Wow.
Last question—If you could offer just one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?
Don’t self-reject. What I mean by that is don’t close the doors to opportunities because you feel like you’re not good enough. Whether that’s submitting your work for a writing contest, querying a certain agent, participating in a critique group, or attending a class or a conference. There’s already a lot of rejection in this business, there’s no need to add any more by discrediting yourself. If you don’t take a chance, you won’t know what’s possible. Yes, you may get a few doors closed on you along the way, but that’s okay. Dust yourself off and keep going. If you stay with it, you’ll find your groove and your people.
Such sound advice. And where can we find you on the web?
Finally, are there any Indy bookstores who have signed copies of your book for sale?
Yes! Interabang Books in Dallas where my virtual launch party will be hosted.
Thank you, Summer and so much luck with everything!
About Emily Bailey
Emily M. Bailey is a professional actor and storyteller who has spent the past fifteen years travelling the globe with her nomadic family and gathering stories along the way. She is currently based in NYC where she writes middle grade and picture books, as well as a screenplay. She is the Middle Grade Community Leader for Inked Voices.